Saturday, February 25, 2006

Ink Magic 9


Ink Magic (part 9)

I watched the inhuman tattoo creature for several hours, switching the graviscope back frequently to view my own surroundings. I never saw anyone watching me, but after a while my tattoo kitty seemed to be trying to warn me about something. I got that same feeling as before, kind of an unfocused awareness that I was not alone, but when I investigated, both physically and through the graviscope, I saw nothing.

Eventually, I went back to watching the tattoo guy, and only a few minutes later he left the shop. He flagged down a taxi and headed south, then west, then south again. He was on a freeway, and from his directions it would probably be 280. Eventually, I started taking way points (just hit the "w" on the keyboard) so that I could reproduce his path later.

The cab stopped near the ocean at the top of the coastal cliffs. I followed the creature down a long set of stairs to a deserted beach, and then along the beach. After a lengthy walk along the beach, my quarry passed into a cleft in the rocks leading to a winding little canyon. He worked his way up the canyon to another long set of steps. He climbed these steps to the top of the cliffs, then traveled in-land for a few hundred yards, and finally came to a mansion. Another inhuman creature opened the front door as he approached, and the tattoo creature was ushered in to meet yet another nonhuman. The two creatures conferred for a short time and then the tattoo creature left the way he had come.

So why did the creature take such a round-about way to and from the mansion? Why not take a cab straight there? A little investigation revealed the answer: the mansion was not reachable by road. In fact, it was in a state park off Daly City where there should be no homes at all. I wondered if the house was really that inaccessible or if it was hidden by one of those enclouding spells. Either way, it was something worth seeing. And there wasn't much daylight left, so I had to get going.

I went to collect a few things. The night vision binoculars were illegal in California, but probably not as illegal as the Gatling gun when the firing motor was attached. The GPS unit was legal. The survival knife was legal, but the six-inch switchblade was questionable. The climbing equipment was legal. The burglary tools were illegal since I'm not a licensed lock-smith. The black jumpsuit was legal. The portable burst-microwave emitter was not specifically illegal, but since its only possible use was to destroy electronic equipment like burglar alarm sensors, I think they could get me on some charge like "intending to vandalize". And to tell you the truth, I'm not sure about the bugging devices. They're probably legal unless you use them illegally like I was planning to do.

Fortunately, I had all of this on hand. It's kind of a hobby.

You would be surprised at how hard it is to get data off of an old PC onto a new one. There was no network connection and the old PC only had 5.25 inch floppy drives. Where was I going to find a computer that could read a floppy drive? After spending too long trying to figure out a way to avoid the work, I finally had to copy the way points by hand into my notebook. I only copied the last ten.

As I drove to Daly City, I thought about how to approach the house. Should I follow the route of the creature along the beech or just try to go straight there from the nearest parking spot? If it had been earlier in the day, I probably would have tried to find my own way to the house, but you never know what kind of obstacles you are going to encounter going over-land.

The parking lot where the cab had dropped Mr. Inhuman Tattoo Guy was deserted but it was still daylight so I had to make some compromises in equipment; instead of a pack, I wore my trench coat and tried to cram as much stuff as I could in the pockets and on my web belt.

I paused at the top of the bluff, taking in the smell of salt water and the crash of the waves. Below was the gray-green sea with white waves pounding endlessly at the shore, not what you would call a beautiful color, but more dramatic and majestic for that. Every time I saw this sight I told myself that I should get over to the coast more often, but I just never got around to it.

The concrete steps were old and cracked, the handrails were rusted, and the ground had washed out from under the steps in places to a dangerous degree, all of which made for an adventurous descent. The steps ended a good six feet above the beach, a legacy of the recent storm which had washed away the sand, and I had to carefully pick my way down the rocks to the sand.

When you walk along the beach, you have to decide between walking in loose dry sand, which takes a lot of energy, or walking near the water, which risks getting your feet wet from a big wave. I was planning to be out all night in the shoes I was wearing, so I opted to avoid the risk.

As I walked along the beach, I noticed how the sand came in varieties. Here it was fine and gray; there it was coarse and almost black; here it was fine and had a yellowish tinge; there it was actually more gravel than sand. What acted to sort the sand into varieties instead of mixing all together? I speculated that it was because the sand in a particular area came from the nearest cliffs.

After I thought of this, I started paying attention to the rock of the cliffs and the sand types, and sure enough, there seemed to be a correlation between rock types and sand types. With one exception, the sand was colored like the nearby cliffs, but shifted a bit to the north. Also, the larger-grained sands seem to go with harder rocks. The exception in color was that red cliffs seemed to produce black sand. A counter-example to my theory? Not necessarily. Maybe the cliffs contained red iron oxide that was changed to black iron oxide by the salt water. It was an interesting idea. I decided to try to find a book on beach geology if I survived the night.

Eventually I came to the cleft where the creature had entered. It was only three or four feet wide, a nearly vertical break in the cliffs like a gateway in an immense wall. A small stream bubbled happily from the opening, pouring down onto the beach in a tiny waterfall from a ledge only a few feet high. The enthusiastic little stream struggled across the beach toward the ocean but, injured and weakened from its fall, it was dragged down into the sand before it had gone more than ten feet.

I peered through the opening to see a little hidden canyon open out on the other side like a lost world. From the scattered refuse along the steam, I deduced that this lost world was were old tires, plastic bags, and broken pieces of concrete go to die. Seeing the trash changed my perspective of the stream from a happy little brook to a drainage ditch. That's what it was, of course.

It wasn't easy to scramble up the ledge without getting wet but I managed. And then I had to scramble some more, hopping from rock to rock, occasionally climbing a bit up a sloping wall. I wondered how the creature had made this trip look so effortless.

A little ways in and I saw the source of the stream: a storm drain culvert, a big concrete cylinder poking from the top of the cliff and spurting it's road trash down into the canyon in a filthy waterfall. Yuck. Well, that was more or less my destination, the back of the canyon. Oddly though, I couldn't see the stairs and I should be able to see them from here. Probably more of that enclouding thing, and I had been counting on my tattoo to make me immune.

At one point, the little stream ran through an actual tunnel of rock. It looked like it would be impossible to get through that tunnel with dry feet, but climbing over would have been extremely difficult. Luckily, I found an old board and was able to fashion a bridge of sorts to get through the tunnel.

When I came out the other side, I could see the stairs where I had expected them before. Was the anti-enclouding power limited by distance? A bit more hopping across rocks and I was at the stairs. They were made of some kind of smooth stone --I'd never seen anything like it-- and there was no hand rail. It was much hotter at this end of the canyon, so before I had climbed halfway up, I had to remove my trench coat, folding up the Gatling gun inside. The sky above was painted red by the setting sun --as red as I had ever seen it.

As I was wondering at this, I realized that something else was wrong: the water wasn't coming from a culvert any more; it was pouring naturally over the cliff. Was the culvert not visible from here? It ought to be; it had stuck out quite far. When I turned around to get my bearings I received another shock: the canyon had no trash in it. In fact, it had a lot of brush that hadn't been there before, and unless I was seriously confused, the opening was much larger than it had been before, showing a vast panorama of the ocean.

And the sea was red.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

bread expiration

SpaceMonkey mentions that he ate some bread on the expiration date and it tasted OK. But he ate it in the morning and that brings up an interesting point: if the expiration date says, for example 2/20/06, does that mean that it expires at the beginning of 2/20/06 or at the end? In other words, was the bread officially expired at midnight of the 19th before or midnight of the 20th?

Usually, the labels say "good through 2/20/06", which implies that it is good until the end of the day on 2/20/06". So if the SpaceMonkey family threw away the bread right after breakfast, then they must have lost at least fifteen hours of useful bread time.

They could have safely eaten the bread for lunch, dinner, and a just-before-midnight snack. Maybe they could have finished off the entire loaf and saved the wastage.

I wonder what happens after midnight. Probably turns green with grey splotches. That's what bread looks like when you forget about it for a month, anyway.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

portentous port protests

A lot of solid conservatives are down on the president for his insistence on allowing a Dubai-owned company to buy some American port facilities. And how could they be wrong, following the lead of Chuck Schumer, Great American?

Well, here's one way. Maybe this port facility sale was an intelligence operation, a honey pot designed to draw in al Qeda terrorists. Maybe there are some deep-cover agents scattered through the Dubai company and maybe all the offices and phones are bugged.

Or maybe there were some under-the-table deals made whereby we allow them to buy the ports and they do something for us in the War on Terror. There have been rumors of Whitehouse pressure to get this deal done.

Or maybe this thing really doesn't endanger our security in any way and Bush just doesn't like the way Schumer and the other Democrats are exploiting anti-Arab racism to screw over an ally.

Hey, guys, you do realize that you are following Chuck Schumer's lead here, right? What are you thinking?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


I'll be hosting the next Storyblogging Carnival on the 27th. If you have a story you would like to enter, please send it to with the subject "storyblogging". The official rules are here, but I'll accept just about anything that is posted on a blog, can be reasonably described as a story and isn't grotesquely offensive.

If you have ever posted something that fits that description, please consider entering it into the Carnival.

Please send me the following information:

title of story
url of story
name of author (optional)
name of blog
url of blog
word count
rating (like R, PG, etc.)
a short blurb describing the story

The deadline for entries is midnight on the Saturday before the Carnival.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

castles and cathedrals

This is a continuation of the saga of Doc Rampage in the Lands of the Moops, but nothing really happens in this part. I'm not even spicing it up with some emotionally true lies to make it more interesting because Oprah scared me off that.

This post will complete the tourist part of my account, and the next one will get to Ramata, the young lady I met. By the way, I saw her on TV just last night. She was in the movie "Rottweiler" which showed on the Sci Fi channel. It's pretty cool to see someone you know on the Sci Fi channel.

Ramata was the woman who heard the cyber-rottweiler on top of the van and opened the roof panel to see what was up there. Then, ... well, I don't want to give any spoilers, but I will say that the movie is an extremely violent slasher flick with the cyber-rottweiler as the monster, so as you can guess, her curiosity came to a rather messy end.

But before we get to Ramata, you are going to have to read one more post about sight-seeing.

Back in Spain, my brother acted as my tour guide. He's actually pretty experienced at Spanish tourism since he's lived there for ten years and has had to babysit many friends and family members on their first Spanish vacations. Also, he's not unusually annoying to be with.

In order to assure a modicum of anonymity, I'll be calling my brother "Brother Spike" in deference to the fact that he tells his nephews to call him "Uncle Spike" because he wants to fool them into thinking that he's cool. Of course their only truly cool uncle is me.

So Brother Spike drove me and his son, Nephew One, down to Granada for a couple of days where we visited La Alhambra (pronounced lalambra where the "a"s sound like the "o" in "cot" and the "r" has the sound you make when your toy truck strains against a heavy load). The "La" in "La Alhambra" means "the" and I think the "Al" means "the" too, so if you call it "The La Alhambra" you would be saying "the the the hambra". It's a good way to annoy locals.

Anyway, the La Alhambra is a huge fortress occupied and built up by the Moors. Some of the literature said that the fortress was to protect Granada, but Brother Spike pointed out that all of the major defenses seem to be aimed toward Granada. At least in the Moorish days, La Alhambra was really designed to help them control Granada, not protect it.

The first night, we went for a walk. I thought we were just going to wander around for twenty minutes or so, but thanks to getting lost and taking the wrong path, we were out for somewhere around two hours and must have walked around three miles --a lot of it up and down hills. I'm not as young as I used to be and that hike aggravated my back pain. I, of course, blame Brother Spike.

The next day we spent the morning in Granada, looking for something touristy that Brother Spike thought should be there but couldn't seem to find. We did visit the cathedral. Brother Spike (yeah, I know I'm picking on him, but hey, he knew I was a blogger when he accepted the assignment) started off the tour of the cathedral with a lecture about how all cathedrals are build with the floor plan in the shape of a cross. After a bit of wondering around, looking for the cross shape, he allowed has how maybe not all cathedrals are in the shape of a cross.

One thing that really struck me about the cathedral visit and some other Catholic sites I visited in Spain is how the artwork seems more appropriate to a death cult than to the religion of the Prince of Peace. I think it would be fascinating to trace the origin of this macabre Medieval fascination with death and suffering.

In the afternoon, we visited the La Alhambra. Inside La Alhambra, we visited the palace of the last Moorish king in Spain --the guy who was driven out by Ferdinand and Isabella --the very same year that Columbus left Spain to discover the New World (fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue).

I suppose the palace was magnificent --all that wonderful Moorish artwork-- but the only things that interested me were the fortifications and other engineering feats. I'm not really into magnificence; I like snooping around hidden crannies, speculating about the purpose of some bit of architecture, imagining what it was like to man a particular post or fight a battle there.

On the drive back to Madrid from Granada, we were planning to stop at an Iberian site. According to Brother Spike this would be ruins that predated the Roman conquest of Spain. There was no description, just a map symbol like the symbol for hospital or boating area, this was a symbol for a pre-Roman site.

I was looking forward to seeing the ruins, but we never found it. While looking for it, we explored an old wine-storage building --a big, square building made of clay. Inside the outer walls, there were two more concentric square walls so that the building basically consisted of two square rings that went all the way around the building. The walls had a honey-comb surface with holes big enough for wine bottles (which is why Brother Spike guessed it was used for storing wine). I enjoyed scrambling around in that old ruined building more than I had enjoyed the fancy-shmancy artwork of the palace.

The reason that we thought this building might have been the pre-Roman site was because it was at the top of a small hill or big mound. I thought at first that the hill was artificial, but Brother Spike pointed out that there were other, similar hills around. One artificial mound like that might have made sense, but I doubt a primitive people would put in the energy to make a half-dozen of them, all within a few miles of each other.

The next item of interest on the tourist map was a castle, represented on the map by a little tower. We were able to see it from a long way off since it occupied the top of the largest hill in the area. To get to it, we had to take a single-lane track through the scrub to the base of the hill and then climb the hill on foot.

There was no ticket booth or any other kind of control like there had been at La Alhambra. It was literally just an abandoned building in the middle of nowhere that happened to be a medieval castle. It was in pretty good shape, built with large-stone arches just like the Romans build, an architecture that lasts forever. The towers were down and filled with their own rubble, and there was no roof on the main building, but the walls were still in good shape and there were underground rooms that had not caved in.

It was amazing how far you could see from atop the castle walls and it was obvious why it was built here: you could see everything going on in the countryside for miles around (except for a narrow area to the east, blocked by a smaller hill).

There was one room that we never quite figured out. Imagine a hole in the ground thirty feet deep and about twenty feet square, roofed over in stone so that the only access is through a porthole at the top, maybe 4 by 6 feet in size. The only way to get in is by ladder. To make matters more interesting, it wasn't really a hole, but a room with no doors. In other words, you could go down into the underground parts of the castle and walk all around this room about twenty feet down (in other words, the room was about ten feet deeper than the other underground parts of the castle) but never see any entrance nor sign that there ever had been an entrance.

Nephew One descended first into the Stygian depths of the pit by way of a metal ladder of recent origin. Brother Spike followed. It would have been a real bummer if the ladder had come off the wall with all three of us down there so I waited up top until Brother Spike came out. When my turn came, I went down the ladder just far enough to see what was down there. As soon as I saw that there were no exits, that it was just a pit, I lost interest in risking my life on the descent and climbed back up.

What was this room for? Brother Spike, Nephew One and I came up with a couple of guesses: a dungeon or gunpowder storage, but we really don't know.

Well, I'm losing interest in recounting the various tourist attractions and I imagine that you all are losing interest in reading about them. I'll just compress the rest of the vacation to a mention that I also visited Segovia. The two-thousand-year-old aqueduct was amazing, Isabella's castle was impressive, and the cathedral was macabre.

Next time: Doc Juan Rampage and Ramata.